Film Focus: How West Ham Shut Down Tottenham Hotspur Again in 2-1 Victory

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Film Focus: How West Ham Shut Down Tottenham Hotspur Again in 2-1 Victory
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Not for the first time this season, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur played each other, and the East Londoners walked away with victory in hand.

Sam Allardyce's side had played Andre Villas-Boas' side at White Hart Lane earlier in the Premier League season and walked away with a stunning 3-0 win—something that few expected from a club tipped as somewhat of a guarantee to make the top-four.

(You can read the Film Focus from that match here).

Times have obviously changed since then with Spurs' decline down the ladder and Villas-Boas' dismissal as the manager, but West Ham's mentality has not.

In fact, despite both teams fielding a number of different players to what they did earlier in the season, West Ham were able to use a very similar approach to topple their London rivals and book a place in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup.

Let's break down the film and see exactly how West Ham made it two wins from as many matches against Tottenham Hotspur this season. 

 

Conditions, Teams Made for Width 

Ian Walton/Getty Images

Perhaps the biggest difference between their encounter earlier in the year and this fixture was the constant use of width and crossing that both teams employed. Spurs constantly looked to break down the wings and exploit the late arrival of players like Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor into the box, and it almost brought immediate dividends for the North London club.

In just the second minute of the match, Aaron Lennon was able to break down the right wing and beat Razvan Rat, but Defoe could not find the back of the net.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

In the eighth minute, Lennon produced a similar cross that was almost turned in for an own goal.

From that moment on, it was clear that the strategy was all about width.

By the end of the match, Tottenham's disparity in terms of their total passing and crosses attempted was simply staggering. Statistics provided via WhoScored show that out of the 520-odd passes that Tottenham attempted, 39 of those were crosses. While that might not seem like a high number, that means that one in every 13 passes was an attempted cross.

Tottenham Hotspur: Passing vs. Crossing
Completed passes 438 passes
Attempted passes 526 passes
Completed crosses 7 crosses
Attempted crosses 39 crosses
Comp. passes per cross 62.6 passes
Att. passes per cross 13.5 passes
Total through balls 0

Statistics provided via WhoScored.com

For a team that had 68 percent possession on the night, that's a lot of crosses.

It was hardly surprising, then, that the goal for Tottenham came about as a result of a cross. Defoe was able to break quickly on the counter-attack up the left wing and then cross the ball into the middle for Adebayor, the forgotten son under Villas-Boas, to volley home in style.

It was simple yet clinical from the Londoners. 

 

West Ham's Midfield: Forgotten Bypassed but also Brilliant 

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

One of the biggest misconceptions, I believe, about West Ham's midfield is that it gets by-passed. Allardyce's men are viewed as a side that loves to play the long pass and look for aerial success (commonly called route-one football) and the thinking that follows that is that the likes of Matthew Taylor, Jack Collison, Alou Diarra and Mohamed Diame simply pick up the scraps in attack.

I'm not 100 percent convinced that it's a great way of thinking.

Without doubt, West Ham love to play the aerial game.

They did it against Tottenham earlier in the year and they did in this one also, with their strength in the air directly producing both of West Ham's goals.

Aerial Duels Won and Lost
Tottenham Hotspur West Ham United
Total aerial duels won 9 16
Aerial duel success rate 36 percent 64 percent

Statistics provided via WhoScored.com

In many ways, this does render their midfield as of secondary importance in attack. There's absolutely no denying that in attack, their midfield is by-passed.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

But the likes of Diame, Taylor and Diarra continue to be underrated when it comes to their defence, and while it might be the aerial game that is viewed as producing the game-winner for West Ham, it was actually the relentless pressure and persistence of their midfield that won them this game.

Against a team that had a staggering 68 percent possession, the Hammers emerged triumphant thanks to their ability to shut down the middle corridor of the field.

As we saw when they met earlier in the year, West Ham's ability to shut down Christian Eriksen in his floating No. 10 role was pertinent to their success.

Allardyce opted to try and use the same tactic again, and it was one that the Hammers were able to execute perfectly to their benefit.

Image via Dailymotion

In the opening minute of the game, Adebayor won possession and looked to track centrally through the middle, but was soon shut down by quick pressure.

Etienne Capoue—played in somewhat of an unfamiliar central defensive role—was too far away from his central midfielders in both Adebayor and Gylfi Sigurdsson, and this allowed plenty of space in between the two lines for West Ham. Remember, Tottenham's high-line was exposed by Liverpool at the weekend so Spurs were no doubt looking to sit much deeper in defence this week. That gave West Ham the upper hand whenever they managed to win possession in the middle of the field.

Image via Dailymotion

Fast-forward a few seconds and you'll note that after Adebayor loses possession, the space is there for West Ham to exploit and break forward in attack.

Another great example of this midfield presence is shown below.

Look at the triangle that surrounds Sigurdsson in the middle of the field, and look at the space in behind that West Ham are willing to sacrifice to win possession.

Image via Dailymotion

By shutting down not only the player in the middle of the field but also his ability to quickly distribute the ball, West Ham are able to win possession and shut down the attack. They might not win the ball back for long—usually clearing the ball quickly and giving their defence a chance to set up again—but those momentary breaks in pressure were key in their ability to shut down Spurs.

In terms of total defensive actions per game, the difference was clear indeed.

Defensive Actions Won/Lost
Tottenham Hotspur West Ham United
Total tackles won 11 20
Total interceptions won 9 14
Total defensive actions 20 34

Statistics provided via WhoScored

Yet while this is a tactic that's now worked twice for West Ham against Tottenham as well as other teams, that's not to say that it can't be beaten and exploited.

West Ham's willingness to pressure the middle of the field can be turned into a weakness, and Andros Townsend perhaps provided the best example of this.

Early in the match, he wins possession in the middle of the field.

Image via Dailymotion

Both Diarra and Collison move off their respective men and areas to try and win back possession, but Townsend's quick movement takes him away from that situation and allows him to exploit the space in behind that we mentioned above.

Suddenly, Spurs are on the attack in a rare central position.

Image via Dailymotion

As Townsend cuts on his left and prepares to shoot from outside the box, look at how much distance he's put between the two central midfielders for West Ham. 

He's been able to isolate just one man and that allows him to get the shot off, with his effort just fizzing wide of the left post.

That attack was one of the rare times that Tottenham were able to drive through the middle of the field, and it was all down to the ability to move quickly into position between the two midfielders.

Some food for thought when they play West Ham for a third time later this year.

 

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